Art is the imitation of nature, and true religion is a divine art, that consists in the imitation of God himself, the author of nature. Therefore it is a more high and transcendent thing, of a sublimer nature than all the arts and sciences among men. Those reach but to some resemblance of the wisdom of God, expressed in his works, but this aspires to an imitation of himself in holiness, which is the glory of his name, and so to a fellowship with himself. Therefore there is nothing hath so high a pattern, or sublime an end. God himself, who is infinitely above all, is the pattern, and society with God is the end of it and so it cannot choose, but where religion makes a solid impression on a soul. It must exceedingly raise and advance it to the most heroic and noble resolutions that it is capable of, in respect of which elevation of the soul after God, the highest projects, the greatest aspirings, and the most elevating designs of men, are nothing but low, base, and wretched, having nothing of true greatness of mind in them, but running in an earthly and sordid channel, infinitely below the poorest soul that is lifted up to God.
Since we have then so high a pattern as God, because he is infinitely removed from us in his own nature, we have him expressed to us under the name and notion of light, which makes all things manifest, not only as dwelling in inaccessible light, that is in his own incomprehensible, ineffable essence, even before this light was created, for he is in the light, and was in the light, when there was no sun to give light, because he was in himself environed, so to speak, with the infinite light and splendour of his own understanding, and beauty of his own holiness, and so dwelling in an all fulness and self sufficiency of blessedness, not only is he thus in the light, but he is a light to poor sinners, the most communicative Being, that ceaseth not continually to send forth streamings of that light and life into dark and dead souls. And therefore he is not only light in himself, but a sun of righteousness, most beneficial in his influences, most impartial and free in his illumination, and so he is often called, -- "my light and my salvation," our light, "a light to me," Psal. xxvii.1, Micah vii.8, Isa. xlii.6, 7. Now, it is this emission of light from him that first drives away that gross darkness that is over souls, for till then, in the darkness all was hid and covered, nothing seen, neither ourselves, nor God, neither the temper of our hearts, nor the course of our ways, nor the end they lead to. But it is the breaking in of a beam of that Sun of Righteousness that maketh any such discovery, as motes are not seen till the sun shine, though the house be full of them. In darkness there is nothing but confusion and disorder, and light only makes that disorder visible to the soul, to the affecting of the heart. Now, when once the soul hath received that light, there is a desire kindled in the heart after more of it, as when the eye hath once perceived the sweetness and pleasantness of the light, it opens itself and exposeth itself to a fuller reception of more. And so the soul that is once thus happily prevented by the first salutation and visit of that day-spring from on high, while he is sitting in darkness, and in the shadow of death, (Luke i.78, 79) afterwards follows after that light, and desires nothing more than to be imbosomed with it. That tender preventing mercy so draws the heart after it, that it can never be at perfect rest till the night be wholly spent, and all the shadows of it removed, and the sun clearly up above the horizon and that is the day of that clear vision of God's face. But in the mean time, this is the great ambition and endeavour of such an one, to walk in that light, and this is the very entertainment of that fellowship with God. He is already in the light, that is, to say, he is translated from a state of darkness to light, and endued with the living and saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. This is his state. He is in the light, one enlightened from above, having his eyes opened to discover the mystery of the iniquity of his own heart, and to see far off, to that bottomless pit of misery which his way would lead him to, one who hath by this divine illustration discovered eternal things, and seen things not seen, and withal, gotten some knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. Now, such an one, being thus in the light, his duty is, and his infinite dignity besides, to walk in that light, that is, to lead all his life under that eternal light of God, which shines in the word, and to bring it all forth in his view, to make our whole course a progressive motion towards heaven, wherein that glorious light shines most gloriously. It is almost all one with that of Paul's, to have our conversation in heaven. For, to walk in the light, is a kind of elevation of our actions, a raising them up to heaven, to that pure light, for after that and towards that is the soul's design.
Now to express to you in what it consists, I desire not to branch it forth in many particulars, which rather distract the mind than affect the heart. Only you may know, it consists especially in the inward retirements of the soul to God, and the outward shining of that light in our conversation to others. These are the chief parts of it, borrowing from his light, and then lending and imparting it to others, by a holy conversation. Truly, we must needs conceive that the most lively and unmixed partaking of the light of God, and the sweetest society with him, is in the secret withdrawings of the soul from the world, and reposes upon God those little intervals, and, as it were, stolen hours of fellowship with God, that are taken from the multitude and throng of our business. These are the fittest opportunities of the transforming the soul into his similitude, and of purifying it as he is pure, of filling it with divine light and love, for then the heart lies, as it were, perpendicularly under his beams, and is opened before him, to give admission and entry to this transforming light, and it is the shining of God's countenance then upon the soul that draws it most towards conformity with him, and leaves an impression of light and love upon the soul.
Oh! that you were more acquainted with this, this aprication, so to speak, that is, sunning yourselves and warming in the sun, the exposing and opening of your hearts frequently in secret, before this sun of Righteousness. Now this, if you were acquaint with it, would make your light so to shine before men, as your heavenly Father may be glorified, Matt. v.16, -- and that is the walking in that light of God. This makes a Christian to come forth, as Moses from the Mount, with his face shining. He comes out from the retired access to God, with a lustre upon his carriage, that may beautify the gospel, and (as one saith well) with the tables of the law in both his hands, written in his practice, the light of the law shining in his life. And truly this is the Christian's diurnal motion in his lower sphere, wherein he carries about that light that is derived from the higher light. In all his converse with men, it shines from him to the glorifying of him that is the Father of lights, walking righteously and soberly, without offence, doing good to all, especially the children of light, extending offices of love and benevolence to every one, forbearing and forgiving offences, not partaking with other men's sins, and, finally, declaring in word and deed, that we have communion with the fountain of pure light, and one day expect to be translated out of this lower orb, where we are so far distant from him, and fixed in the highest of all, where we may have the immediate, full, uninterrupted, and clearest aspect of his countenance, which shall then make the description that is here given of God communicable to us, that, as he is light, and in him is no darkness, so we, being fully and perfectly shined upon by him, may be light likewise, without any mixture of darkness, as here it is not.
Now, my beloved in the Lord, this is that we are called unto, to walk thus in the light, in the light of obedience and sanctification, and that is the great thing ye would learn to aspire unto, rather than to enjoy the light of consolation. Indeed, I conceive, that which maketh many of us walk in darkness, as is spoken in Isa. i.10, that is, without comfort, peace, and joy, and without clear discerning our interest in God, is, because we walk in another darkness, that is, of sin and distance from God. The one darkness is introductive of the other; nay, they cannot be long without one another. The dark cloud of bold sinning, and careless uncircumspect walking, that cannot but eclipse the light of consolation, and fill the soul with some horror, anguish, and confusion. Therefore, if ye would walk in the light of joy and comfort, O take heed nothing be interposed between God and your souls! You must likewise walk in the light of his law, which is as a lamp to the feet, and this light, as the ray, begets that light of comfort, as the splendour, which is the second light of the sun. I know it is a disconsolate and sad condition, to walk without the light of the knowledge of our interest in God, but I would earnestly recommend unto you two things to support you, and help you in that. One is, that you do not give over the chief point of this society with God, that is, walking in the light of his law and commandments, but that you do the more seriously address yourself to the one, that you want the other. Certainly, it ought to be no hinderance of your obedience, and patient continuing in obedience, that you know not your own interest, and that his countenance shines not so upon you. You know that sweet resolution, "I will wait upon the Lord, who hides his face," &c. (Isa. viii.17, Mic. vii.7,) and his own command, Isa. i.10, Hos. xii.6. Ye that walk in such darkness, nevertheless, "stay upon God." Truly, there could be no greater evidence of thy interest than this, -- to give patient attendance upon him in the ways of obedience, till he shine forth. This would in due time "bring forth thy righteousness as the light," if we would not subtract and withdraw ourselves from under the light, because it is presently overclouded. Then, moreover, you would know, that all this while that your interest in Christ lies dark and under a cloud, you would then be most in the application of that blood to your souls, most in trusting and staying upon the name of God, and his absolute promises. Suppose thou do not as yet know that he is thine, yet dost thou not know that he is made thine by believing in him? And therefore, while it is inevident that it is already, thou oughtest so much the more to labour, that what is not may be. Now, if thou canst not apply him to thy soul, as thine own possession, yet thou mayest, and so much the more oughtest to apply thy soul to him, and resign and offer thyself to him, as willing to be his possession, to be his, and no more thine own. In a word, when thine own experimental feeling of the work of God's Spirit fails within thee, then so much the more insist, and dwell upon the meditation and belief of the general promises, which are the proper object of faith, and not of sense. As our own interest is the proper object of sense, and not of faith, therefore the defect in the one needs not redound upon the other. To sum up all in one word, -- if thou thinkest that thou hast not yet believed in Christ, and hast no interest in him, I will not dispute with thee, to persuade thee thou art mistaken, for all this debate would be in the dark, because thou art in darkness. But one thing I would say unto thee, -- labour to do that which thou wouldest do, which thou must do, if such a case were granted. Suppose it were so, that thou had no interest in him, what wouldst thou do then? I am sure thou wouldst say, I would labour by any means to have him mine. Why then thou knowest that cannot be before believing, and receiving him on his promises, and not at all but by believing. Therefore, since that this is it you must at length turn unto, suppose the case were decided, why do you not presently, rather without more wearying yourselves in the greatness of your way, turn in thither, as to a place of refuge without further disputing in the business, and so by believing in Christ and waiting upon him in his ways, you shall put that out of question, which debating would make an endless question. The Lord make you wise to know the things that belong to your peace.